Abuhav Synagogue's ancient Torah scroll dates back to 14th century, still fit for reading, unlike many ancient scrolls exhibited in museums Oshrat Nagar Levit
Meir Karsenti, 80, a manager (gabbai) at the Abuhav Synagogue in Safed, was particularly excited last week as he geared up to take out what is thought to be the oldest Torah scroll in the world which can still actually be used.
"From research we conducted it appears the scroll was written in the 14th century by Isaac Aboab of Castile," Karsenti said. "A scribe examined the scroll two years ago and confirmed it was fit for reading. There are many ancient Torah scrolls in museums but they are banned for reading during prayers because of erased letters or words. This scroll can be read in a synagogue," he said.
Karsenti has been serving as manager of synagogue affairs at the ancient Abuhav shul for the past 30 years, but has never dared touch the scroll. "Itâ€™s a family tradition due to the scroll's sacredness," he noted.
Last week the scroll was taken out of the synagogue's ark, where it is kept under tight security. The synagogue's men held final preparations before taking it out on Rosh Hashana.
The scroll is taken out of the ark to be read only three times a year: On Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Shavuot. "We are checking that no damage has been caused to the scroll, that letters have not been erased," cantor Shlomo Hadad said.
Many worshippers and tourists visit the synagogue to see the Torah scroll on the rare occasions it is taken out. Those lucky enough to be called up to read from the Torah must be married and must have bathed in the mikveh on that day.
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu said: "This scroll is very special to us. We have held joint tests with the Hebrew University and have even brought in a scribe to check the scroll. It is undoubtedly kosher. The scroll is written in a special way and therefore it is a great privilege to have it here with us in Safed."
Isaac Aboab of Castile was born in 1433 and studied Kabbalah and philosophy. It is unclear who brought the ancient scroll to Safed and some believe exiled Jews from Spain were those who brought it to the city.